If you've ever had whiplash as the result of a car or sports accident, you know that it can be excruciatingly painful. Whiplash is the result of soft tissue damage in the neck following a jerking motion according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Whiplash typically clears over several days, although some effects can be permanent. Exercising and allowing yourself to become injured while you're still healing could exacerbate your symptoms and cause lasting damage. Instead, take precautions to allow your neck to heal before you exercise again.
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Whiplash requires time to heal. After the first 48 hours, you could engage in a low-impact exercise like walking. Even then, take things slow so you don't re-injure your neck.
Whiplash Symptoms and Treatment
Whiplash usually comes along with neck pain and stiffness in the neck. Additionally, you may also have headaches at the base of the skull, fatigue and dizziness. These symptoms may cause irritability. Whiplash is typically uncomplicated, but your symptoms may be so severe that you have trouble moving your neck and head.
Usually whiplash is treated via rest, ice and heat therapy and occasionally over-the-counter and prescription pain medication. Talking to your doctor about the severity of your symptoms can help you identify the best treatment option for you.
What Does Recovery Look Like?
Most bouts of whiplash are painful in the first few days following an accident. As time passes, the pain should subside and be completely gone after one to three weeks of rest. Still, severe cases of whiplash may be long lasting and you could still feel pain or stiffness up to three months or even a year following the incident according to the National Health Service, especially if you injure your neck again.
During the first 24 to 48 hours after the accident, it's important that you rest your neck as much as possible to avoid prolonging the healing process.
Read more: Neck and Back Exercises for Whiplash
Whiplash and Exercise Guidelines
Since you should avoid neck movement as much as possible for the first 24 to 48 hours, exercise is generally discouraged during that time. As your neck begins to heal and your pain subsides, you can slowly begin adding back daily activities that require the twisting and turning of your neck.
Increase the intensity of your exercise as your pain lessens over time. Until your pain is completely gone, safe exercise after a car accident means avoiding exercise or sports that pose neck injury risk, such as contact sports. Low-impact exercise, such as walking, yoga and dancing, is preferable until you've completely healed.
Complications and Precautions
Should your whiplash symptoms and pain linger for more than a few weeks, your doctor may suggest that you meet with a physical therapist. A physical therapist may suggest gentle stretching activities that help to relieve some of the stiffness and pain in your neck according to Mayo Clinic.
Until the pain subsides, avoid any activity, like weight lifting after whiplash, which could pose a neck injury and follow all of your physical therapist's instructions. Adding in activities slowly as you heal can help reduce your risk for a repeat injury and improve your chances for a total recovery.
Read more: Aerobic Exercises for People With a Neck Injury